Saturday 20 July 2019

Alisson's blushes spared as Liverpool do enough to win

Leicester City 1 Liverpool 2

An Alisson howler allowed Leicester back into the game. Photo: Reuters
An Alisson howler allowed Leicester back into the game. Photo: Reuters

Sam Wallace

It was a mistake that ultimately had no bearing on the outcome, the £67 million Alisson dawdling by the goal-line and coughing up possession to the striker snapping at his heels, but given Liverpool's recent history with fallible goalkeepers, it certainly cast a shadow over a good day for Jurgen Klopp's team.

The Brazilian would later say that he did not think much of the pass from Virgil van Dijk that put him in that position, and Klopp himself wondered if the pitch was not a little on the dry side. Substitute Kelechi Iheanacho came in to rough up the goalkeeper as he looked to turn out of trouble - a foul, Alisson would later claim - and the ball was crossed back for Rachid Ghezzal to score the first goal Liverpool have conceded in four league games.

They have won four out of four, and this victory took Klopp's side back to the top of the Premier League for the time being, their best start to a season since 1990-91 when Kenny Dalglish was in charge and the Reds were champions. Title contenders in 2018? Without a doubt, which is why they are being scrutinised for every possible weakness, especially those that they have paid handsomely to eradicate.

In all other departments Alisson looked commanding, especially when the tide turned against Liverpool after a blistering start. They scored through Sadio Mane on eight minutes. Yet by the time that Roberto Firmino had added a second at the end of the first half, Claude Puel's team were back in the game. Alisson later said that he would not make the same mistake again, and Klopp said that if there was a game to make one like that, this was it.

Had Puel told his players to target Alisson when he deliberated with the ball at his feet? "We have a saying in Normandy, 'Maybe, yes, maybe, no'," said Leicester's French manager.

If Leicester had not stood off the visitors at the start, perhaps it could have been a different story, but this is a formidable Liverpool side. Puel's team played with a lot more certainty, and there were bright performances from the likes of James Maddison and Nampalys Mendy which filled their manager with hope.

Leicester City's Demarai Gray shoots at goal. Photo: PA
Leicester City's Demarai Gray shoots at goal. Photo: PA

They have won two and lost two, and once again Puel's substitutions were booed by the home crowd, although there was promise in the performance. In the absence of the suspended Jamie Vardy, there was a start up front for Demarai Gray, and the pressure was on Liverpool to the end. The away side had a fine performance from Joe Gomez, a crucial saving tackle in the second half on Maddison one of the standouts.

The Alisson mistake gave Leicester hope, having fought their way back into a match in which they were bypassed in the early stages. Mohamed Salah missed a chance on three minutes with just Kasper Schmeichel to beat and, later substituted, the striker was not his usual self. Andy Robertson's ball inside from the left gave Mane the space to beat Harry Maguire and stroke a shot past Kasper Schmeichel.

Having been overrun in the early stages, Leicester got back into it, taking confidence from a mistake by Georginio Wijnaldum midway through the first half from which they worked an opening.

Mendy and Wilfried Ndidi are a good central midfield pairing, and the pace of full-backs Ben Chilwell and Roberto Pereira restricted Liverpool's attack. It was all the more reason for them to regret the James Milner corner that Firmino headed in relatively unchallenged at the end of the first half. The routine was well-worked, but with the likes of Maguire in defence, it should never have been conceded. This was Milner's 80th Premier League assist, making him joint seventh in the all-time table with David Beckham.

It was a more positive Leicester side in the second half. Puel was booed for substituting Maddison, as he had been when he took off Marc Albrighton earlier. In between came the goal conceded by Liverpool, a bad back-pass from Van Dijk that Alisson lingered on far too long. In came Iheanacho to whip the ball away and his cross was finished by Ghezzal, the £6m signing from Monaco to replace Riyad Mahrez.

It precipitated a scramble at the end, with Jordan Henderson replaced by Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri coming on for Salah as Klopp tried to reignite his team. The Liverpool manager described the goal as a mistake that had to be made at some point if, for nothing else, to teach his players that they could not just assume that their goalkeeper was an easy outlet every time they found themselves under the kind of pressure Leicester applied.

"We all have to learn to use him in the right way, which means pass the ball in the right moment and immediately make another offer for him, some passing options - whatever," Klopp said. "Football is a game where mistakes happen. That was a big one because we conceded a goal. The reaction was brilliant. I am completely fine. It needs to happen that it will not happen again. That was the day today."

Klopp was also asked what he made of Jose Mourinho's suggestion that managers such as him - who had won nothing outside their own country - were subject to less criticism. Intrigued, Klopp's reaction was that the United manager was "right, absolutely". "He is probably the most successful manager in the Premier League at the moment. I have no problem with that," he said. "I don't watch Jose Mourinho press conferences - should I? I will start doing that."


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